Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Melbourne General Cemetery's Trees

Has anyone noticed how the pine trees around the periphery of the Melbourne General Cemetery have been being chopped down over the last year or so? I have, so I decided to email the cemetery asking why. (I assumed it was because of the drought we've been having). According to Gina Webling, the Memorial Sales Consultant, the trees along the Lygon street fence line have been removed because "the roots were damaging the monuments and graves, part of the some of the trees were dying off and branches were breaking and falling on the existing monuments. Each tree that has been removed will be replaced with the same type tree, this is a slow process as they are preparing the soil." So that's good - I mean that they are going to plant more trees there. Here are two pics I took recently at the cemetery, but in an area that does have trees. The top one is a very child-like angel under a peppercorn tree, and the other one was an attempt to get an image of the use of Cypresses in the cemetery, a traditional tree of mourning.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hieronymus Bosch

Who does not love Hieronymus Bosch? I sure do. Do you know what his name means? It means "holy name", you may be more familiar with it as 'Jerome'. What a fantastic doodler he was. Here's a little image of some altar piece doors, showing his idea of how one gets to the afterlife - through a tunnel with the help of an angel apparently. There have been many words written about Bosch's supposed membership of the heretical "Bretheren of the Free Spirit", but then others say that he was not a member at all. If you want to see Bosch paintings close up, the Prado in Spain is the art gallery to go to.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Winter Solstice Offering

I think I can marry atheism with my love of religion. As Richard Dawkins says, scientists have that same awe in the wonder of existence as religionists do, but they don't need to believe in a supernatural being as the cause of it - the amazingness of the world is enough. So I've typed up a little atheistic prayer to the world.
World, you’re a good place. Look how amazing you are.
I love your trees, dirt and water.
How is it that you hold yourself up in space?
Thanks for the food.
Humans can be horrible, but at other times very nice.
Look at all the wonderful, evocative things they have produced.
I like animals too, our siblings (even though we often eat them).
When I look up, away from the land, I see sky.
Cosmos, you make me cower in terror - in a good way.
I fall over with vertigo at your vast incomprehensibility.
I’m glad to be here, to look at all this.
I think I can incorporate religious ritual gestures as well, and still be true to atheism, lets see... As a modern Pagan I could define my ritual space with salt water and the words "In the beginning we climbed out of the sea"; then I could cense the area with perfumed smoke while saying "I burn the blood and sex of plant life for its fragrance"; next I could plunge a dagger into a cup and say "Sex is amazing"; I could dance round in a circle (or ellipse) shouting "The orbits of celestial objects move like this!"; and I could go on a spirit journey inside myself and chant "I'm a microscope of the inner sea." Why should I even bother to express my awe at Nature in a ritual way? Because it is boring to go around not taking notice of this wonderous place in which we find ourselves and ritual is a pleasing artistic expresion of the relationship between ourselves and the orders of existence with which we live. I think I'll go do all that now. Happy Winter Solstice.

Spirited Away

That photo of the entrance to the Egyptian Avenue at Highgate cemetery (below) is reminding me of the doorway that leads to the "Underworld-ish" bath house in Hayao Miyazaki's anime movie, "Spirited Away". Talk about an excellent, weird, surreal movie! And the girl's parents get turned into pigs - very Homer's Odyssey! Pigs are sacred to the chthonic Greek goddesses, Demeter and Persephone. I can't find a good image of the doorway, so only those who have seen the movie will know what I'm talking about. Here are some pics that almost do the job that I want anyway.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Peter Ucko buried at Highgate.

Sad news for the living… archaeologist, Peter John Ucko: born London 27 July 1938; Lecturer in Anthropology, University College London 1962-72, Director, Institute of Archaeology and Professor of Comparative Archaeology 1996-2006 (Emeritus); Principal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies 1972-81; and Professor of Archaeology, Southampton University 1981-96; died in London on the 14th of June 2007. Why do I like him? Because of his writings on prehistoric female figurines, in particular the very interesting “Anthropomorphic figurines of predynastic Egypt and neolithic Crete with comparative material from the prehistoric Near East and mainland Greece.” (London. A. Szmidla. 1968). Very useful for anyone interested in those fleshy female figurines, currently considered within the Pagan scene and in popular literature to be “Goddesses” – and they may well be… But don’t decide until having a look at what archaeological experts such as Ucko say about them. A funeral service for Professor Ucko will take place at 12pm on 26 June, at St Michael’s Church, South Grove, Highgate, followed by burial in Highgate Cemetery.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Dominion of the Dead

You might be wondering what some of the things I post on this blog actually have to do with Death. Well, I’m going to resort to quoting Robert Pogue Harrison from his fascinating book “The Dominion of the Dead” (University of Chicago Press, 2003) in order to give you an idea of how I see “Death” as a very broad category, encompassing what is beyond human existence on earth as well touching what we do here during life.

‘Whatever the rift that separates their regimes, nature and culture have at least this much in common: both compel the living to serve the interests of the unborn. Yet they differ in their strategies in one decisive respect: culture perpetuates itself through the power of the dead, while nature, as far as we know, makes no use of this resource except in a strictly organic sense. In the human realm the dead and the unborn are native allies, so much so that from their posthumous abode – wherever it be – the former hound the living with guilt, dread, and a sense of responsibility, obliging us, by whatever means necessary, to take the unborn into our care and keep the story going, even if we never quite figure out what the story is about, what our part in it is, the end toward which it is progressing, or the moral it contains. One day the science of genetics may decode the secrets of this custodianship, but meanwhile we may rest assured that there exists an allegiance between the dead and the unborn of which we the living are merely the ligature.’

My interest in things archaeological, religious and artistic have in many ways come down to me from the Dead, from societies, mystics and visionaries, and artists who are no longer on this planet – although they have left a lasting legacy to us – to me - in their Great Work, to put it in a Thelemite sense. We will all also leave our Great Work, whatever that is, to the unborn. No wonder ancestor worship was the first type of religion for humans, or so it is said in anthropological circles. Death is a broader category to me than just morbidity. [Image: A Lycian tomb, from the cover of Harrison's book].

Skull Art

Here are three artistic enditions of skulls that I rather like. First, from the bottom upwards, is the rather painterly "Skull-Burger 2" by Ben Quilty. Second, is "Skull - 1st Anniversary" by Samuel Tupou, and third (top) is "Mother Skull" by eX de Medici.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Nereid

I can't leave my blog until I am totally satisfied with my last post's appearance. Therefore I am adding this Coptic tapestry of a Nereid (sea nymph) dating to the 7th century. It's rather gorgeous, isn't it.

Pagan Imagery in textiles.

It is nice to see cute Pagan imagery surviving in the decorative arts well into the Christian era, such as in this tapestry-woven band with pastoral subjects (late 5th century CE).

Coptic Tapestries

While it is usual to think that people in antiquity went around clad in brilliant white clothing, or perhaps imperial purple, in fact they wore multi-coloured clothes as well. Coptic textiles such as these depicted here were applied to a particular garment - the tunic - as patches, strips or medallions. They would also have been used in larger textiles such as interior furnishing. These Coptic tapestries depict Ariadne and Dionysus (both 5th century CE), and Ge and the personification of the Nile (both 2nd century CE). Indeed these are both quite late dates and well into the Christian era, however they give an idea as to what was possible in ancient textiles. While the Aegean has an unsuitable climate for preserving textiles, Egypt has an excellent one! Coptic textiles are usually excavated from funerary contexts. The often have no provenance, or provenience, because of unregulated excavating performed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you're interested in ancient textiles I recommend Elizabeth Barber's books "Prehistoric Textiles" (Princeton, 1991) and "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" (Norton, 1994).

Arachne: Spider Woman

The mythical story of the contest between the goddess Athena (Roman Minerva) and the mortal woman Arachne can be found in Roman poet Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (Book VI). Here's a run down of the story: Arachne lived in Lydia and was a brilliant weaver. So adept was she that she became arrogant and claimed that her ability rivaled that of the goddess Athena. Athena, as the patron deity of weavers with the epithet, Ergane, (Athena Ergane meaning ‘Athena of work’) couldn’t let Arachne’s hubris pass by unchallenged – the Greek gods do get rather jealous. So, in the guise an old peasant woman she gently warned Arachne not to compare her talents to those of an immortal. Arachne poo-poohed this suggestion so Athena then showed her real self and both she and Arachne had a weaving competition, each creating a tapestry. Athena wove her tapestry with images that foretold the fate of humans who compared themselves with deities, while Arachne's weaving told of the loves of the gods. Such was Arachne's skill that her work equalled that of the goddess, and Athena, overwhelmed by anger, struck Arachne. Terrified, Arachne hung herself, Athena then transformed her into a spider.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My profession.

So what is it I actually do I hear you asking? Well, as it says on my 'about me' page, I'm a professional craftsperson and a writer. My professional craft is weaving - tapestry weaving in the medieval tradition to be precise - and I write about witchcraft. My Craft name is Circe, after the famous ancient Greek witch from Homer's Odyssey, she was a weaver witch as you will discover if you read the book. I don't know if she also wrote, but she certainly sang. Here's a picture of Circe the weaving witch mixing up a potion for Odysseus, probably in order to turn him into a pig which is what she did with his companions before him. To the right you can see her loom, it is a warp-weighted loom, which is what the ancient Greeks used.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Witches offer babies to the Devil

Yes, that's what certain propaganda machines would like you to believe, and not just in the Medieval and Early Modern European Witch Trials. Roman writers like Horace and Lucan writing in the late 1st century BCE and early 1st century CE promoted the idea that female Witches reversed their usual maternal instincts and instead of nurturing their babies, offered them up either to malevolent supernatural beings, or used their body parts in subversive magical rituals.

Babies can really get you into trouble.

Yes, babies can really get you into trouble. Look at Rosemary's Baby - trouble! Look at Azaria Chamberlain - trouble! Look at the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe - trouble! Look at the Egyptian god Seth and his birth myth: he ripped his way out of his mother Nut - trouble!

Azaria: The Dingo Took My Baby

The case of the death of Australian baby Azaria Chamberlain is one of those examples of mob malevolence where the victim is made the criminal. Lindy and Michael Chamberlain's lives were wrecked by first having their baby taken by a dingo, and then being accused and convicted of murdering her themselves. I remember the whole of Australia being in on judging Lindy via television, pronouncing on the way she didn't seem to look sad enough about her daughter's disappearance, and the rumour mill churning out the idea that the name "Azaria" meant "sacrifice in the wilderness" (which it doesn't). What is most annoying about this case is that like chooks crowded together in a cage, people stated to "peck" at the weak one - Lindy - eventually cannibalising her. Why? Why attack the weak one, the one who is already injured. What a good example of a scapegoat. Some even said Lindy was a witch. And the way she was just assumed to be guilty did seem to echo the Witch Hunt methods, the way she was assumed to have done the "female crime" of infanticide, something which comes up again and again in Witch Hunt imagery. An inverted female world, where nurture becomes its opposite. Pictured above are some baby clothes belonging to Azaria, the fact that they are black only confirmed Lindy's weirdness in the public's eyes. And you have to admit, they are unusual, and dare I say, weirdly prophetic? But then again, not.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Angelos, the messenger

I'm currently done with traipsing around cemeteries. I'll finish with an angel image. Cemetery angels can be over-photographed, so I've only done one. She has a star on her head. I thought that was nice. She may be a Pagan angel, or some sort of faerie.

An ugly grave

Here's what I consider an ugly, depressing, god-forsaken grave... Its just not very nice looking and was in a rather creepy, broken-down old part of the Melbourne General Cemetery. I felt like this was a place I could get murdered in. There was a murder several years ago in the Fawkner Cemetery, a young woman visiting the grave of her grandmother. Cemeteries are not that safe. I did find a cloudy quartz crystal there in the soil however, which seemed to redeem the site somewhat. I'm getting a bit bored with photographing cemetery structures however, and I might move on to something else now.

Walter Lindrum's funerary monument.

Now this is a very cute gravestone ensemble, wouldn't you agree? It belongs to billiards champion Walter Lindrum who, to quote Don Chambers in "The Melbourne General Cemetery" (p.72) says Lindrum's "prowess with the cue once overawed competitors around the globe. So dominant was Lindrum in the international world of billiards, that the rules of the game were amended to give his opponents a sporting chance." This tombstone reminds me of the African (I can't remember right now what part of Africa) wooden coffins, brightly coloured and made in the shape of one's trade, or favourite thing ie/ a fish, a shoe, a Mercedes Benz.

Skull Parade

Here are some more rather interesting skulls to look at. Do you think I am morbid? I probably am. But I wouldn't say that I was obsessed with, or romanticise, death. I'm not impressed with death particularly, can't say I find it particularly nice, or am in any way looking forward to it myself - despite religious ideas about what death entails, such as Aleister Crowley's suggestion in 'The Book of the Law' that death is - to paraphrase I'm sure - rest and ecstacy in the bosom of Nu. That may be so, but until that time I can't be sure. Plus, I also like the idea of living the best and most interesting life possible here on planet earth, and trying to do something that will outlast my own demise. The ancient Greek heroes strove for 'Kleos Aphthiton' - imperishable glory - that sounds good to me. To gain imperishable glory, one has to do something really outstanding. Whether one actually ever does that, at least it is a good aim to have in life, I think.

Journey to the Afterlife

Well I spent 6 hours at the Art Gallery of South Australia looking at the Egyptian antiquities, I also looked at the Edward Burne-Jones tapestry and other Arts and Crafts movement objects, which were very nice. The Egyptian antiquities needed to be looked at several times each, so I went through the exhibit 3 times, each time seeing things I hadn't before. It was very worthwhile, but one really needs time to look properly, which I made myself do. It paid off because I eventually discovered some very important little images on papyrus, relevant to my studies, depicting the hieroglyphs and drawings that make up The Book of Going Forth By Day (a.k.a. The Egyptian Book of the Dead). I could have easily missed them because they were so tiny. The catalogue of the exhibition is good, and inexpensive for its quality. Do I recommend this exhibition? Sure do.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Canidia, the graveyard witch.

Her unkempt hirsute poll
all tangled with little vipers,
Canidia orders funereal cypress,
wild fig-trees dug out from tombs,
a nocturnal screech-owl’s feathers, eggs
smeared with the blood of a nasty toad,
herbs supplied by poisonous-
fertile Iolcos and Spain,
bones snatched from a starving bitch –
to be scorched in the Colchian flames.

- Horace. 'At, o deorum'. Epodes 5.

Egyptian Antiquities from the Louvre

I'm going to see the exhibition "Journey to the Afterlife" at the Art gallery of South Australia on Tuesday. Maddeningly it is not coming to Melbourne - it went to Canberra, Adelaide and then it's going to Perth. Hello !?! Why couldn't it come to Melbourne? Apparently is consists of 200 specially chosen artefacts from the Louvre, and hey, while it is a bit extravagant to go interstate to seen an exhibition, its cheaper than going all the way to France.

Who says skinny is best?

I'm so sick of the cult of the anorexic. It is unfortunate that modern girls don't realise that the corpse look hasn't always been the model of beauty that is is thought to be, as pumped by trash magazines. Who says you have to be a stick? The craftsperson who made this image of the Goddess Ishtar obviously liked a more fecund female form.

Altar of Pergamon

You've seen the little Hecate altar a few posts back. It was used for private magic by someone living in Pergamon. Well, here's what might be thought of as its direct opposite: the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (now in Berlin's State Museum). Originally built in the 2nd cent BCE, this altar is decorated with images from the myth of the Battle of the Gods and the Giants. (Hecate also features on it, see the second shot). The magazine "Biblical Archaeology Review" has a very interesting article by Adela Yarbro Collins on this altar entitled "Satan's Throne" (Vol # 32, No.3 May/June 2006). Apparently the prophet John, in the Book of Revelations from the Christian Bible, conveys a message from the risen Christ to the seven congregations in Asia Minor. The message to the Christians in Pergamon declares "I know where you dwell, where the throne of Satan is, and you hold fast to my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas, my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." The article goes on to say that Revelation refers to a specific structure when it speaks of Satan's throne - The Pergamon Altar. This is a fascinating article and I encourage those interested to look it up. Just like the author of Revelation people today, in 2007, still mistake the plethora of individual Pagan gods, with their own names and personalities, for one particular god called Satan. I hope one day they will bother to do some actual research before they bang on about whose who in the world pantheon.